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High Court

Group challenges minister's decision preventing it from offering courses to overseas students

A High Court challenge has been brought by Holmes Institute Ireland Ltd against a decision by the Minister for Justice.

A PROVIDER OF third-level education has brought a High Court challenge against a decision by the Minister for Justice which prevents it from offering courses to overseas students.

The action has been brought by Holmes Institute Ireland Ltd, which is part of the Australian-based Holmes Education group.

The group, established in 1963, provides third-level courses to tens of thousands of students in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.

It established an Irish subsidiary in 2018 and planned to offer courses from a campus it has leased at Merrion Square, in Dublin city centre and has invested significant funds into the venture.

Starting from this year, it wanted to provide a three-year honours degree course in business, or a one-year certificate in business to those who wish to opt-out of the degree course after one year, to both Irish and international students.

The academic courses were approved by the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, the State agency responsible for promoting quality and accountability in education and training.

In order for non-EEA students to be allowed into Ireland to study, courses offered by an education provider must be included by the Minister for Justice on what is known as the Interim List of Eligible Programmes for Student Immigration Permission.

The group anticipated that most of the students at its Dublin campus would be from outside the EEA.

Holmes applied to the minister to have the course included on the list. Earlier this year its application was refused by the minister. That decision was appealed to the minister, but the refusal was upheld.

Holmes claims that the minister summarily dismissed its application on the basis that the company has not previously provided the course to Irish and EU nationals for a period of two years.

In judicial review proceedings against the minister, Holmes, represented by Frank Crean BL, seeks various orders and declarations including an order quashing the Ministers refusal.

It also seeks declarations including that the minister’s policy that it must have delivered courses to students for a minimum of two years as a prerequisite to including on the interim list is unlawful.

In his submissions to the court, Crean said the minister appeared to be operating an inflexible policy by refusing to allow the courses on the interim list, because his client had not offered courses to students in the two years before the application was made.

Counsel said that the while the company had only commenced trading relatively recently it has a proven track record in delivering courses elsewhere.

In 2021, it was the largest provider of MBA courses in Australia, where it operates four campuses, counsel said.

The minister had failed to properly consider all the relevant information supplied by his client regarding its capacity and history to deliver such courses at other colleges in the group.

The decision to refuse was irrational, and there was a failure by the minister to give proper reasons for her refusal, counsel submitted.

Counsel said that his client had hoped to commence offering the course at the start of September, but could not do so due to the minister’s decision.

Counsel said the case was urgent from his client’s perspective, and if an early hearing date could be obtained Holmes was hopeful that it could commence taking in students next January.

The matter came before Mr Justice Mark Heslin, who said that he was satisfied to grant Holmes permission, on an ex-parte basis, to bring its challenge.

Noting the urgency of the matter, the judge said all the court could do at this stage was list the matter for mention in early October when the new legal term begins.

Aodhan O Faolain